Ever wanted to take a swing at playing as Ms. Marvel or Spider-Man? With the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game by Margaret Weis Productions, you can do just that.

Over the weekend at GenCon, I was walking by one of the many demo booths when something caught my eye. It was the corebook for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying tabletop game at the Margaret Weis Productions booth. This game would go on to take silver in the Best Game and Product of the Year categories, and gold for Best Rules at the 2012 ENnie ceremony (GenCon’s answer to the Oscars). I was able to both demo the game and speak with two very kind folks from Margaret Weis Productions: Amanda Valentine (Managing Editor) and Cam Banks (Game Designer).

Published in April of 2012, the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game is a tabletop role-playing games meant to put players in the spandex of their favorite characters from the Marvel Universe. This differs from the player-created PCs common to most tabletop RPGs, but the aim of this game is a little different. Using the Cortex Plus system, which uses a dice pool system ranging from d4s to d12s, the Watcher (as the GM is known in this game) and players are encouraged to create a cinematic, drama-driven story experience inspired by the adventures from the Marvel Comic universe. As Ms. Valentine put it, people have a sense of these stories and characters. When things go wrong (which the entertainingly named doom pool ensures), it creates a dramatic arc during gameplay meant to resemble what comic fans read in their comic books. The game also does a good job of capturing the signature Marvel angst by tracking emotional and mental stresses as well as physical damage. The Cortex Plus system is a lot more abstract than common d20 style systems and rewards the creation of story moments rather than the death of another orc or kobold. And for those who want to invent their own characters, there are rules in place to do just that and it looks pretty easy to do.

The core rulebook contains an adventure detailing the breakout from the metahuman prison The Raft, as depicted in New Avengers #1-6, and rules for playing Avengers, Fantastic Four, and X-Men alike. At GenCon, Margaret Weis Productions was selling the first big event book, an adaptation of the 2006/2007 Civil War storyline. Further sourcebooks tied to the Civil War event include the 50 State Initiative, as well as books detailing rules for the Runaways, Young Avengers, and X-Men. Future events planned for publication are the Annihilation and Age of Apocalypse arcs. Mr. Banks assured me that the latter would involve characters from the original 1990s story, as well as incorporate more recent visits to the alternate history setting, such as those in Rick Remender’s recent Uncanny X-Force stories.

Having just acquired the corebook for Heroic Roleplaying and demoing it briefly, I cannot give a full review. The play style was easy to pick up in the demonstration, and did a good job of encouraging role-playing true to the Marvel characters, while allowing for enough creative flexibility to make the character feel like my own. In functional terms, the dice pool system was reminiscent of indie-styled games and seemed like it would be easy for new players to the system (or tabletop gaming in general) to learn. The system really is geared for a cinematic style of playing, and while I need to see how it plays out with a larger group, The art in the books looked familiar, and Ms. Valentine confirmed that all the art was indeed taken directly from the Marvel archives. As a result, everything is pretty nice to look at.

The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game book lists at $19.99 (a point I certainly appreciate). Margaret Weis Productions also publishes rules for games for several licensed properties, including the Leverage, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly universes.


  1. Rob
    August 21, 2012 at 2:26 pm — Reply

    Looks interesting superhero rpgs are notoriously hard to do but this looks like they might have actually pulled it off at less than $20 got to be worth checking out.

    • Eli
      August 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm — Reply

      Have you tried Mutants and Masterminds? I find that system to work very well

      • August 21, 2012 at 4:29 pm — Reply

        I’ve played both, and while the Marvel game is cute, one could probably get a more balanced, and inventive game experience with M&M.

        • August 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm — Reply

          I have to disagree with you a little. M&M is not balanced. It is designed to allow you to play ANY superhero you want to design. Balance is not the goal of the rules, though it does try, it falls to the players and the GM strike a balance. One person could be Superman and another could be Iron Fist. As for inventive gaming, that is purely in the hands of the players (or GM), never the system. Even if you are using the published modules, some GM wrote those. The Marvel game keeps you in a specific universe and gives the players and GM the basics of a storytelling game rather than a hack/slash game. I played the game at Gen Con as well and think it has a lot of potential as long as you aren’t a power gamer.

  2. August 21, 2012 at 8:22 pm — Reply

    As a child I made my own mutant-base superhero pen-and-paper rpg.
    The costumesasion possibilitys are endless – which is nice.

  3. Ian
    August 21, 2012 at 8:22 pm — Reply

    I always liked the old Marvel RPG (faserip)

    • August 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm — Reply

      I loved that game as well, both the basic and the Advanced systems.

  4. August 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm — Reply

    The gameplay is described very much like the old Saga rules Marvel Super-Heroes Adventure Game and Mission Books. It would have been nice to read a more detailed review, and perhaps a comparison of the latter game. Either way, I wish to know more…

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George Chimples

George Chimples

George Chimples comes from the far future, where comics are outlawed and only outlaws read comics. In an effort to prevent that horrible dystopia from ever coming into being, he has bravely traveled to the past in an attempt to change the future by ensuring that comics are good. Please do not talk to him about grandfather paradoxes. He likes his comics to be witty, trashy fun with slightly less pulp than a freshly squeezed glass of OJ. George’s favorite comic writers are Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison, while his preferred artists are Guy Davis and Chris Bachalo, He loves superheroes, but also enjoys horror, science fiction, and war comics. You can follow him @TheChimples on Twitter for his ramblings regarding comics, Cleveland sports, and nonsense.